Tariq Woolen’s pace his nice equalizer

Ninth of an 11-part series. Coming tomorrow: safety.

There are many impressive numbers when you look at draft prospect Tariq Woolen.

The Texas-San Antonio cornerback is 6-foot-4. He ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He has a vertical jump of 42 inches. But the most impressive number to UTSA coach Jeff Traylor is 3. That was Woolen’s jersey number for the Roadrunners last year.

At UTSA, the team votes on what players should wear single digits. Woolen’s teammates chose him as one of those players last season. So NFL teams may be looking at his physical gifts from him before next week’s draft, but Traylor says Woolen’s ability is only part of the story.

“He’s just so long and he’s so fast,” Traylor said. “It looks effortless. It looks like he’s not even moving. He’s just so graceful and he’s so long. That’s not even his best part of him. The best part is the human he is.”

Woolen turned heads during the pre-draft process with his speed. At the Senior Bowl, there were 22.45 miles per hour, the fastest time ever clocked at the event. He followed that up with his blazing 40 time at the combine.

Tariq Woolen, left, breaks up to pass in a game against Western Kentucky on Dec. 3, 2021.
AP

Woolen is projected as a possible third-round pick despite only playing cornerback for two years.

Growing up in Texas, Woolen was a wide receiver. That is what he played when he arrived at UTSA. But late in the 2019 season, the coaches asked him to switch to cornerback.

“It was a hard choice, I played offense my whole life,” Woolen said.

Tariq Woolen
Woolen ran the 40-yard dash in 4:26 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
AP

When former UTSA coach Frank Wilson initially approached him, he was reluctant to move to defense.

“I told him not at first,” Woolen said. “I’m an offensive guy, I never played a lick of defense in my life. When he told me that I was like, ‘Nah, no, no.’ And he basically told me it would help the team, and when I thought about it that way I said OK. But we would go to practice at first and I would stay with the wide receivers and he was like, ‘No, go to the cornerbacks.’ I would go to receiver drills and he would go, ‘No, go back to corner.’ I practiced for like two weeks, then the last week of that season I played at corner.”

Wilson was fired after the 2019 season and Traylor was hired. Traylor gave Woolen a choice of moving back to receiver or staying at cornerback.

“When I got here, I sat him down and asked him what he really wanted to do,” Traylor said. “He said he would do whatever we needed him to do. We needed corners really bad. We felt pretty good about our wide receiver room. So, we moved him to the corner and he’s been doing that now for two seasons.”

Woolen has two interceptions and nine passes defended in the last two years. Traylor said the biggest question NFL teams have asked him is how far along Woolen is at learning the position.

“It’s the old 10,000-hour rule,” Traylor said. “It’s time on task. It’s something that obviously takes a lot of time. He’s only got two years at the position. But I also see it as a positive because his upside of it is so high. You can’t coach length. You can’t coach speed. Those are things that the Lord just gives you. You can coach route recognition, scheme and time on task. Those are things you can do. He’s a good, good human. He loves the game. He is physical. There’s a lot of clips of him being physical. He’ll be very coachable. That’s rare to have a 6-4, 4.2, humble servant mindset like Tariq Woolen has.”

NFL teams may be concerned about Woolen’s tackling as much as his coverage. But Traylor said Woolen can be physical. He has told teams that they are getting a great guy in the locker room, something Woolen feels is his strength from him.

“My strong suit would be being a great teammate, on and off the field, that’s always been big to me,” Woolen said. “Being a great teammate means you’re trying to help everybody around you get better, and with my skill set in addition to that. So making sure the guys around me are comfortable, being a great teammate, you’ll see the performance of the guys around me always improve.”

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